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India Health Minister Clarifies 'Homosexuality is a Disease' Comments


Indian Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad speaks during a press conference in New Delhi, India, July 5, 2011

Indian Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad speaks during a press conference in New Delhi, India, July 5, 2011

India's health minister is backtracking from statements he made earlier this week, in which he called homosexuality a disease.

Ghulam Nabi Azad insisted Tuesday that the media had misquoted him, even though video of the comment he made a day earlier at an HIV/AIDS conference has aired repeatedly on Indian television.

Azad said he was calling HIV - the virus that causes AIDS - a "disease," not homosexuality. Despite this, the minister had used the term "men who have sex with men" in Hindi in his initial statement. He also said the act was "unnatural."

The comments enraged many gay activists in India, who say that homosexuals in the country are routinely harassed.

Sex acts between same-sex partners in India were illegal until 2009, when a Delhi court overturned a colonial-era law that referred to same-gender relationships as "unnatural."

Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations' HIV/AIDS office says he believes that millions of people dependent on generic drugs to treat AIDS and the virus that causes it will die if India stops producing the cheaper alternatives due to the country's trade deal with the European Union.

The EU and India currently are negotiating a free-trade agreement, which critics say will restrict India's ability to produce cheaper anti-retroviral drugs.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Michel Sidibe said that about 86 percent of people on treatment around the world are taking drugs made in India. He said any free-trade deal between the two sides would drive up prices and limit poor people's access to the drugs.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.

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